Panagiotis Ipeirotis teaches computer science at NYU in the Stern School of Business.  After winning tenure, he decided to use TurnItIn‘s Blackboard integration to see how many of his students were plagiarists.

The result of his investigation was not surprising:

Some of the students had blatantly cheated, and Ipeirotis confronted the entire class about it by email. By the end of the semester, 22 of the 108 students in his class had admitted to cheating on assignments. He gave those that plagiarized bad grades.

When it came time to fill out teacher evaluations, the students hit their professor hard, and his average rating went down about a point. As a result, the newly-tenured professor received the lowest annual salary increase he has ever gotten, and the school specifically cited the lower evaluation score, he says.

Here’s what I wrote about Plagiarism on September 9, 2008 in The Integrity of the Provenance of Ideas: Archimedes and His Burning Mirror:

In this fine illustration of Archimedes and his Burning Mirror by Giulio Parigi (1599), we have a perfect and clear example of how plagiarism operates — and no one escapes this theft of the provenance of ideas able-bodied and unscorched: The sun is the original source, the mirror is the plagiarizer and the burning ship is the aftereffect of the illicit deed after a burning exposure.

On February 20, 2008, I wrote about The Invented Line Between Stealing and Inspiration:

Plagiarism — taking someone else’s ideas and claiming them as your own — is an issue to some in the theatre. I argue the distinction is meaningless because in a live performance the difference between stealing and inspiration is ever-changing.

I was always taught in the theatre that one should “steal” good ideas, staging, lighting and costume ideas and use them in your own productions. Why re-invent the wheel when someone else has perfected its shape, motion and necessity for the advancement of society?

I agree with that argument because the live theatre is never the same. An actor never walks the same line twice and never identically speaks the same sentence. Stealing requires reflectivity and predictability and the live theatres lives in the opposite fog of reflexivity and the immediacy of innovation.

I can’t really feel sorry for Professor Ipeirotis because he was wantonly naive in the want of his study.  He already knew students cheat.  He knows it is the instructor’s duty to catch the cheaters, punish them, and preserve intellectual morality in the classroom.  He did what he was supposed to do, but because he did it cruelly and without tact, and he was punished for that foolishness by the university.

By openly challenging the cheater beast in a “Catch Me If You Can” game of accusation and indulgence, Ipeirotis allowed the Plagiarists in his class to overwhelm him with a proof he could not dismiss and had to act upon.  In the end, he was, of course, cudgeled with poor evaluations by his wronged students in retribution for his barbaric effort to reveal them in the public square.

Instead of teaching the students HOW NOT to Plagiarize over the course of the course, Professor Ipeirotis instead dared them to cheat — and they did — and then he publicly brutalized them in a blog post that he has since “unpublished.”  That’s called a setup, and the professor, and not the Plagiarists, rightly got burned.

If you want to proof your class from cheaters, you have to change the way you teach.  You can’t offer any opportunities for cutting and pasting.  You must have live, one-on-one, interaction with your students.  You must allow your students no place to hide because that is the only way to do a daily, provocative, means test to determine if they’re actually acquiring knowledge, or if they’re just nodding their heads and prescribing by rote.  To do otherwise is to teach with a “take the money and run” philosophy that always punishes the student more than the professor perpetrator.

2 Comments

    1. Right, Gordon. The tests need to, in some way, be individualized for maximum telling. I’m sure the students wouldn’t like that much, either, but at least they’d be coming at the problem with a more positive angle. If you’re teaching a coures on writing a research paper, then you have an even greater responsibility to grade on the mental act of writing and not on what can be copied and pasted from elsewhere. Remove the temptation. Increase the reward for doing the right thing.

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